Anatomy Of A Smear: Annotating Darren Sands’s Creative Non-Fiction About #ADOS
“Democrats are getting increasingly worried that Black Americans with an uneven voting history may tune out Democratic candidates in 2020, as fringe messaging campaigns and disinformation breed cynicism over what the party has done for Black Americans.”
Not until a full five paragraphs later does Sands more specifically describe what “Black Americans with an uneven voting history” means. There, he refers to them as “marginal” and “sporadic” voters who are characterized by their non-participation during midterm elections and/or their not being unwaveringly partisan. What’s curious though is that—by these very criteria—Black Americans with an uneven voting history seem to in fact be a shrinking presence within the overall Black electorate. In the 2018 midterms, Black voter turnout actually rose from where it had been in 2014 by 11 percentage points (51.4 percent), clearly indicating new and heightened political engagement within the group. Moreover, these voters overwhelmingly went for the democratic candidate (90 percent).
One can’t help but think, then, that what Democrats are actually “increasingly worried” about is a Black voter turnout scenario akin to (or worse than) what the party witnessed in the 2016 presidential election, which—for the first time in 20 years—had declined to 59.6 percent. And while the DNC officials to whom Sands spoke are eager to blame “fringe messaging campaigns” for the possibility of such apathy resurfacing in 2020, it seems worth pointing out a very obvious fact that seems to be completely lost on them: the show of Black voter indifference toward the Democratic Party in 2016 pre-dated the founding of literally every single one of the movements they cite in this article. This intro paragraph should probably read: Democrats are getting increasingly worried that 2020 candidates will be forced to actually deal with the natural outcome of the party’s decades-long tuning out of the community and its totally thankless attitude over what Black Americans have done for it.
“Democratic National Committee sources told BuzzFeed News the party is tracking a new set of loosely organized online movements that officials believe are trying to steer Black voters away from the party or from voting altogether. The groups are varied in their approach, but share a common thread of deep suspicion of the Democratic Party and an apparent determination to seize upon the hypersensitive political moment in a country with a deeply troubled racial past.”
If Sands is going to include this indirect quotation that he received from his sources at the DNC, then he should at least respect his readers enough to clarify the ways in which those sources are in fact openly lying to them here. It would require a minimum of effort on his part to look at these “loosely organized online movements” and see that—more than being “varied in approach”—the groups’ respective aims and strategies are honestly not even really comparable. From here, Sands could then transition into a much more detailed and honest (if that’s his thing, which it does not seem to be) assessment of what each of these movements actually stand for. And so instead of writing this…
“The party is paying particular attention to the American Descendants of Slavery, or #ADOS, a group that believes reparations should be paid solely to Americans who can trace their lineage back to people who were themselves enslaved (the group had previously been under suspicion being made up of bots); Blexit, a new outfit led by young Black conservatives arguing a vote for Donald Trump is a vote against widespread immigration and abortion standing in the way of Black middle-class family values; and Foundational Black Americans, an #ADOS rival founded by independent filmmaker Tariq Nasheed.”
…he could actually report this: That the DNC sources with whom I spoke identified “Foundational Black Americans” (FBA) as a movement is rather peculiar, since FBA seems to not only reject that label, but routinely emphasizes its deliberate lack of organizational infrastructure. Tariq Nasheed, an independent filmmaker affiliated with FBA, has stated multiple times that undertaking work in the political arena is very much extraneous to its main concerns, which hew exclusively toward the cultural aspects of native-born Black life in the U.S. In contrast, “Blexit”—a new outfit led by young Black conservatives—does have an explicit political agenda, but it is one that is so nakedly self-serving and contemptuous of black voters that Democrats should probably make reparations a centerpiece of the Party’s 2020 platform just for letting such a vulturous thing like “Blexit” materialize on the scene in the first place.
The third movement (and the one to whom the party is paying particular attention) is American Descendants of Slavery, or #ADOS. Since its emergence into the mainstream of U.S. politics, #ADOS has faced allegations that it is made up of bots. These claims have thus far proven baseless, and—as the group has begun holding national conferences, showing up on the steps of the Supreme Court, gathering at town hall meetings, and establishing local chapters all across the country—to the extent one persists in promulgating this bot theory, one assumes the risk of publicly appearing mentally unwell. The movement’s demands include proposals that would greatly benefit all Black Americans, but, at the core of their agenda is a call for the U.S. government to make restitution to the specific victims of the institution of chattel slavery and its unique and enduring legacy in America; namely, to those individuals who can trace their lineage back to their enslaved ancestors, and who as a group have been made to bear the particular burden of multigenerational material disadvantage that has been both covertly and overtly made to plague them for centuries.
Laying it out like this (which is to say, again, honestly), would have allowed Sands to circle back to the bit where he erroneously said these groups “share a common thread”, and re-word that part to more appropriately convey the truth that the only common thread they share is that they all involve Black people in a country with a deeply troubled racial past. And one again can’t help but feel a deep suspicion that the Democratic establishment, in witnessing Black Americans begin to think critically about its not-exactly-trivial-role in helping perpetuate those past injustices, is deliberately conflating and misrepresenting these movements in the public sphere in an apparent attempt to seize on the hypersensitive political moment and to get on with the business of exacting the expected performance of fealty from Black voters at the polls while reminding them how grateful they should be for its efforts at symbolic progress.
“Democrats often repeat the refrain that the party would never take Black voters for granted. Inside the party, though, political advisers think it’s likelier than not that most marginal voters (Obama voters who skipped the midterms) and sporadic voters (those who are harder to persuade) have had at least some exposure to an anti–Democratic Party message. In some cases, party officials said, Black Americans’ dim view of the job Democrats have done governing in recent decades is colored by a grim economic outlook and uncertainty about the future.”
Democrats often repeat the refrain that the party would never take black voters for granted. But if current trends continue, Black America’s wealth is expected to completely bottom out in the next two decades. And because Democrats have had an obvious and influential hand in shaping the sorts of policies and circumstances that will have precipitated this extinction event, it seems virtually unthinkable that Black voters would not take a dim view of the job that Democrats have done governing in recent decades. Maybe political advisers inside the party—rather than focusing so much on whether or not marginal and sporadic voters have been exposed to an anti-Democratic Party message—should instead seriously reflect on the ways in which the party has exposed the entire community to the anti-Black messages it has been sending out now for decades.
“The new anti-Democratic groups want to appeal to Black Americans with a populist message rooted in ethnic, cultural, and economic identity they say is untethered to the “Democratic plantation” mentality, a political trope first used by Black Republicans in the 1960s.”
And now, like then, it is still only the Black Republicans whose messaging actually includes the phrase “Democratic plantation.” For Sands to lazily lump #ADOS in with such a glaringly dissimilar rightwing crusade is for him to now be directly insulting his own readers and surrendering any right to be regarded as anything even close to a serious journalist who might hold himself to even the most minimal of standards and ethics of the trade. It is motive-exposing to the maximum. While Blexit and FBA may want to appeal to Black Americans with a populist message rooted in ethnic, cultural, and economic identity they say is untethered to the “Democratic plantation” mentality, Sands might want to at least hint at the fact that it’s very unclear how Blexit‘s out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire approach will translate into any significant improvement in the group’s material condition. The same can, in a certain way, be said for a movement that supposedly abstains from staking out any territory in the political sphere. #ADOS differs from these in its determination to build group empowerment from within a site of possibility; a place where the group has actual political purchase. In this way, #ADOS is not anti-Democratic so much as it is pro-reciprocity, pro-cooperation between a political party and its lifeblood.
“In interviews, Black Democrats said the party itself is partly to blame: Party leaders had failed to further understand the voters who had boosted them at the polls.”
Perhaps, though, the more precise wording is “failed to respect”; Party leaders had failed to respect the voters who had boosted them at the polls. This, again, speaks to one of #ADOS’s most powerful assertions: Politics is an exchange. And so when DNC operatives who so clearly have misdiagnosed the root malaise of Black voters, but who claim to be taking the challenge seriously and saying that they are now working on several black outreach efforts, then those efforts should absolutely be understood as the Democratic Party planning to reach out for the collars of the Black community.
“National Democrats say they want to equip voters with a clear sense of what Democrats have delivered for black people, especially under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said Cyrus Garrett, the DNC’s African American political director.”
Six out of every ten black people in the U.S. have an immediate family member who was or is now incarcerated. Six out of every ten, in large part thanks to Clinton’s crime bill. And that giant wealth-erasing asteroid that is headed directly at black households in 2053 indisputably bears Obama’s signature. In other words, there arguably could not be two worse legacies to trot out in front of already disaffected black voters for a rose-colored glasses trip down memory lane, and one just sort of stares at their phone in bafflement at how Sands manages to let this fact slide without mention. Or, rather, one perhaps begins to understand something about Sands and his function.
‘We already know that [our] platform is aligned with what they need, but we need a way to communicate that more so that when people ask them what the Democrats have done, they can easily talk about it,’ Garrett said. ‘But we haven’t yet found the right language that makes the community feel as if we understand where they’re coming from and what’s actually happening to them. A lot of it is just listening to how they say it.’”
Or policy. Or you haven’t found the right policy. Except, of course, the right policy is directly in front of you, exactly where it has been now for almost a year, on ados101.com. All the “language” you will need is right there. “Where they’re coming from” and “what’s happening to them” is literally all right there. Stop making the needs of the community out to be some fucking great enigma, or like you need Rosetta Stone to be able to understand what black people are saying to you. It’s not language to make the community feel that The Democratic Party needs, it’s the courage to make it heal.
“The rapper and activist Talib Kweli, who has been an ardent critic of #ADOS and Blexit and clashed at times with their leaders over the course of the past year, said he applauded the DNC’s recognition of their threat.”
Y’know, it’s funny. At some point during the writing of this article, Sands must have revisited some of his notes from his days as an undergrad journo student and found this rare gem buried somewhere in there: talk to sources and gather quotes. Although isn’t it strange how he somehow only managed to connect with Talib Kweli and two other individuals (one of whom has also “clashed” with #ADOS, but who more specifically was one of the chief promoters of the “ADOS are bots” theory), and yet he somehow could not find a single person from #ADOS with whom to speak? A single person who might have been able to turn his article into an actual act of reporting instead of an exercise in creative writing.
PaulSowers.com is a blog produced by Paul Sowers who offers a unique perspective on the American Descendants of Slavery movement and the fight for reparations in the U.S.